A Quick One by The Who

A Quick One by The Who

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A Quick One by The WhoThe Who‘s second album is widely regarded as the pivotal album for the group due to their rapid departure from the R&B/pop formula featured on the band’s debut, My Generation, as well as a migration towards more original songwriting. The album was released under the title A Quick One on Reaction Records in the U.K., but American record company executives at Decca Records released the album under the title Happy Jack, rather than the sexually suggestive title of the original release. Due to the song “Happy Jack” being a top 40 hit in the US this track replaced a cover of the hit “Heat Wave” which was included on the original UK version of the album.

The band began to grapple with more complex themes, both melodic and lyrical, especially on their first mini-opera “A Quick One While He’s Away”, the album’s title track. This nine-minute suite contains song snippets telling a story of infidelity and reconciliation. The album was recorded in London with the band’s co-manager Kit Lambert as producer. While a select few of the songs on A Quick One became staples of classic rock radio, it is the hidden gems that really bring out the charm of this album. Further this album is the most diverse as far as songwriting, with each band member penning some of the tracks. Although this fact makes the album interesting, it also makes the album uneven as it is definitely superior on the second side. It is clear that not all members are in the songwriting class of guitarist Pete Townshend, who would go on to write most of the band’s future material by himself.

This future was bright for The Who, as they rapidly evolved subsequent to A Quick One. Their sound became more focused and the songs themselves became at once more artistic and more melodic. In this sense, the band’s evolution in 1966 went on to serve them better than any other mid-sixties British pop group.

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A Quick One by The Who
Released: December 9, 1966 (Reaction)
Produced by: Kit Lambert
Recorded: London, September-November, 1966
Side One Side Two
Run Run Run
Boris the Spider
I Need You
Whiskey Man
Heat Wave
Cobwebs and Strange
Don’t Look Away
See My Why
So Sad About Us
A Quick One While He’s Away
Song Included On Alternate “Happy Jack” Version
Happy Jack
Band Musicians
Roger Daltry – Lead Vocals, Trombone, Percussion
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Penny Whistle, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Keyboards, Horns, Vocals
Keith Moon – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

Being that each band member wrote and sang lead vocals on at least one song from this album, there are a variety of combinations throughout A Quick One. Singer Roger Daltry wrote “See My Way”, an average song which is assisted greatly by the addition of French horn and trumpet by bassist John Entwistle.

Each side of the album opens with songs written by Townshend but with Daltry on lead vocals, a combo which would become commonplace in future years. “Run Run Run” is a remnant from their mod pop days with an amplified, slightly distorted, driving guitar accented by bass with not too much fluctuation until the song breaks down after the lead and then picks back up in a higher key. “Don’t Look Away” opens the second side on a high note with an excellent composition which fluctuates from folk to rock to blue grass. “So Sad About Us” moves the sound closer towards the classic-era Who, especially with the bass and drums sound.

Entwistle added a couple of fine songs to the album’s first side. “Boris the Spider” is memorable and catchy, albeit almost “monster mash-ish” in its construction, especially when he uses his deep “evil” voice during the choruses. His other effort, “Whiskey Man” is closest to the Beatles circa Rubber Soul with a bit of “doominess” to it and a definite edge with French horn, also performed by Entwistle. This is perhaps the best song on the first side.

Drummer Keith Moon shows his strong surfer music influence with “I Need You” on which he also performs lead vocals. The drums are placed right up front in the mix with touches of bouncy organ above the guitar and bass. Moon’s other contribution is one of the more bizarre songs the band would ever record called “Cobwebs and Stange”. This instrumental alternates from jug-band to drum solo several times and contains some odd instrumentation including a trombone and bass drum performed by Daltry.

The Who Happy Jack singleThe only song written and sung by Townsend is “Happy Jack”, the only true “hit” on the album, peaking at #3 on the U.K. charts and the band’s first top 40 hit in the U.S. This odd song was apparently about an old man that Townshend and his friends would tease when they were children, but who would never get angry, only smiling in response. It is a pleasant-sounding number that focuses on the rhythm section of Townshend and Entwistle, as well as some nice vocal harmonies. The song did not appear on the original U.K. release of A Quick One, which instead included the cover of Martha & the Vandells hit “Heat Wave”. This was one of many covers recorded around the same time, including “Batman”, “Bucket T”, and “Barbara Ann”, all of which were kept off the original albums but later added as bonus tracks on CD versions.

No matter which version of the album, all songs were short and direct, clocking in under 3:05 until we reach the final, 9-minute-plus “A Quick One While He’s Away”. There are six distinct parts to the song, starting with an a cappella section, harmonized by all four members. Daltry then uses his best “Dylan” voice for the “Crying Town” section, with Entwistle playing the part of “Ivor the Engine Driver” and Townshend taking lead in the concluding “You Are Forgiven”. This song tells the story of an unnamed girl whose lover has been gone for over a year and she commits infidelity, to which she ultimately confesses and is “forgiven”. Despite the fact that certain music sections closely mimic some country and western standards and there is some harsh editing when fusing parts together, the song as a whole is a true original and future live performances were cohesive and excellent as is evident in this 1968 performance below.

They would go on to create the pop-art influenced The Who Sell Out in 1967, the world’s first rock opera Tommy in 1969, their most popular album (and our 1971 Album of the Year) Who’s Next in 1971 and their masterpiece double album Quadrophenia in 1973. All would be more popular and more highly regarded than A Quick One, but this 1966 effort was the catalyst which made those possible.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

 

Fresh Cream by Cream

Fresh Cream by Cream

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Fresh Cream by CreamThe British blues-rock trio Cream was, perhaps, the first to be deemed a “super group”. Their 1966 debut, Fresh Cream was produced by Robert Stigwood and includes a true fusion of genres brought together by the already vast experience of three young musicians. These genres ranged from a hybrid of blues to hard rock with just a tad of psychedelic rock, and were often combined with lyrics drawn from a variety of contemporary and historic subjects and figures. Although the group would not have a long career together, the music they produced in the late 1960s would cast a net of influence which would reverberate for decades.

Drummer Ginger Baker employed a strong jazz style and improvisation he honed when he frequently performed lengthy drum solos in various groups during the early 1960s. He is also noted for using a variety of other percussion instruments and for his application of African rhythms. Bassist and lead vocalist Jack Bruce got his start in London with Blues Incorporated, in which he played the double bass. The band, (which later also included Baker) played an eclectic mix of bebop and blues. Bruce eventually switched from double bass to electric bass as the band morphed into The Graham Bond Organization, a more dedicated rhythm and blues group, which released two studio albums and a few singles in the early sixties. Guitarist Eric Clapton got his major start with the Yardbirds, where his reputation as a blues-influenced guitar legend grew quickly. In fact, after the band took a more commercial turn in 1964 and began to get a measure of international success, Clapton left the Yardbirds to join the far less commercial John Mayell and the Bluesbreakers.

In July 1966 Baker, Bruce, and Clapton founded Cream and began playing a live set which would provide the material for Fresh Cream later that year. While grounded heavily in blues, the album touches on all of the member’s collective experiences along with a dab of the newly formed genre of psychedelia. In the process, the album opened the door to all kinds of serious and experimental rock music that was to come.

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Fresh Cream by Cream
Released: December 9, 1966 (Reaction)
Produced by: Robert Stigwood
Recorded: London, July-October 1966
Side One Side Two
I Feel Free
N.S.U.
Sleepy Time Time
Dreaming
Sweet Wine
Spoonful
Cat’s Squirrel
Four Until Late
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
I’m So Glad
Toad
Band Musicians
Jack Bruce – Lead Vocals, Bass, Harmonica, Piano
Eric Clapton – Guitars, Vocals
Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

“I Feel Free” was Cream’s breakthrough single as a band. It marked a multi-genre confluence, led by a capella vocals in the verse before breaking into a full-out rock tune with melodic lead vocals by Bruce. The song was only included on the American version of the LP, replacing “Spoonful” from the British version. This cover of Willie Dixon’s classic “Spoonful” is a gem of a blues jam on Fresh Cream with dueling guitar and harmonica leads on top of an ever-intensive rhythm in the song’s mid-section. Bruce’s vocals are at their height here as are Clapton’s guitar licks.

The odd and intense “N.S.U.” (which allegedly stands for the venereal disease “non-specific urethritis”) is complete with driving guitar and drums and a whining, wailing vocal line. “Dreaming” is a ballad with a psychedelic twist, featuring a vocal duet by Bruce and Clapton. The calm, strummed guitar chords are right out of the late fifties, giving the song a nice nostalgic mood.

“Sleepy Time Time” is the album’s first hint at the updated, traditional blues which they return to time and again. The song was co-written by Bruce and his wife Janet Godfrey who also co-wrote “Sweet Wine” with Ginger Baker. This latter song has a much more pop-rock feel, almost bubblegum pop with its nonsensical vocal signature line.

CreamThe second side begins with a signature rendition of the traditional instrumental “Cat’s Squirrel”, with Bruce again pulling double duty of bass and harmonica (along with some ad-libbed scat vocals in the middle). “Four Until Late” is lighter arrangement of a Robert Johnson song, with Clapton taking lead vocals, while the much more intense blues of McKinley Morganfield’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” is surely more satisfying to the connoisseurs of that great genre.

The remake Skip James’ early 1930s spiritual “I’m So Glad” is perhaps the band at their best on this debut album, combining complex rhythm guitar riffs along with a funky bass line, intense, jazzy drums and a fast-based bluesy guitar lead, all topped by an excellent hook and well delivered, melodic vocals and harmonies. The album completes with “Toad”, an instrumental featuring a long drum solo by Ginger Baker. This was well ahead of its time, replicated years later by John Bonham and countless other drum “Superstars” of the 1970s.

By the end of Fresh Cream, the critical listener is left wanting more, a true testament to the album’s quality. Further, although less than half the tracks on the album were totally original, the album as a whole was tremendously original. It set a strong template for the legendary “classic rock” genre which was to come in subsequent years.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

1966_RollingStones Aftermath

Aftermath by The Rolling Stones

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Aftermath by Rolling StonesAlthough it was their fourth album released in Britain and their sixth album released in America, Aftermath was really the second “true” album by The Rolling Stones, following 1965’s Out Of Our Heads. This one, like that previous one, was released in two distinct versions in the UK and in the USA, a common practice for the day (this review will look at the “greater” album, considering all the tracks included on either version of Aftermath). The UK hit single “Paint It Black” was added to the American version, replacing four songs that were included on the UK version.

With Out Of Our Heads, the band reached the peak of their mid-sixties (then cutting-edge) mixture of Chicago-style blues and pop-rock. Aftermath builds on this while it progresses the band more towards their distinct sound and image as “rock and roll’s bad boys”. It is also the first Stones album to include all original material, written by the tandem of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Although not himself a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was the driving force behind some of the unique and distinct sonic quality of the album. Jones incorporated wider musical influences, such as psychedelia and folk, and widely expanded the use of instrumentation, with songs on Aftermath including touches of dulcimer, sitar, marimba, and various keyboards.

Aftermath was also the first Rolling Stones album to be recorded entirely in the United States at the legendary RCA Studios in Hollywood and it was the first album the band released in true stereo.
 

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Aftermath by Rolling Stones
Released: April 15, 1966 (Decca)
Produced by: Andrew Loog Oldham
Recorded: RCA Studios, Hollywood, December 1965-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Mother’s Little Helper
Stupid Girl
Lady Jane
Under My Thumb
Doncha Bother Me
Goin’ Home
Flight 505
High And Dry
Out Of Time
It’s Not Easy
I Am Waiting
Take It or Leave It
Think
What To Do
Song Included On U.S. Version
Paint It, Black
Band Musicians
Mick Jagger – Lead Vocals, Harmonica
Keith Richards – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Jones – Guitars, Dulcimer, Sitar, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Bill Wyman – Bass, Organ
Charlie Watts – Drums. Percussion, Marimba

Much of the music’s backbone is still rooted in Chicago electric blues, with Jones’ instrumental tangents adding strategic flavoring to several songs. The opener “Mother’s Little Helper” contains a signature riff of heavily compressed 12-string electric guitar played with a slide. The song itself is a Beatle-esque, upbeat ode with a much darker message about drug dependency that made it one of the more thought provoking songs of the era.

“Stupid Girl” features a Fafsa organ by band manager and studio keyboardist Ian Stewart. It has the musical vibe of mid-sixties surf music and contains some juvenile lyrics that degrade the band’s groupies, one of several songs on the album that portray the fairer sex in a less-than-stellar light. Feminists have long lamented the message in “Under My Thumb”, which speaks of gaining the “upper hand” in a sexual relationship. No matter the message, the music to this song is absolutely brilliant, led by Jones’ marimba riff throughout with Richards’ acoustic and electric guitars and Bill Wyman‘s driving “fuzz” bass. Jones later brings back the marimba for the Phil Spector-esque “Out of Time”. This song was soon covered by English solo artist Chris Farlowe, whose recording was actually produced by Mick Jagger and reached number one on the UK singles in July, 1966.

Rolling Stones Paint It Black single“Paint It, Black” is, in reality, constructed very similar to the band’s 1965 smash hit “Satisfaction”, in the sense that a catchy and heavy rock song is wrapped around a signature riff. However, the riff on “Paint It, Black” uses the much more exotic sitar which Jones recently learned from Beatles guitarist and Indian music enthusiast George Harrison. During the verse, drummer Charlie Watts adds to the atmosphere by playing a Middle Eastern-flavored drum pattern while Jagger contributed the dark lyrics, about depression, mourning, and cynicism. Keith Richard plays both electric and acoustic guitars as well as contributes background vocals to this hit song.

“Lady Jane” showcases Brian Jones on dulcimer and has a middle-age feel throughout due to its distinct instrumentation and precise vocals. Fans have long considered this song a hidden gem from Aftermath and critics have long argued that Jones deserved a song writing credit. The dulcimer is brought back by Jones on “I Am Waiting”, another good, meditative song.

Unfortunately, Aftermath does include a lot of filler as not all the songs hit the mark. “Goin’ Home” is an 11-minute blues jam, remarkable for its length in the era, but really Mundane in its delivery. “It’s Not Easy” is uninspired, basic filler while “Think” is a feeble attempt to rip-off “Satisfaction” with its buzz and precisely picked strings falling short of anything really interesting. Other songs are more interesting but don’t seem quite done, such as the bluesy “Doncha Bother Me”, the piano rocking “Flight 505”, and the upbeat, acoustic folk/bluegrass “High and Dry”, which has a nice edge due to Jagger’s vocals and Jones’ blues harp, but also contains an annoying, up-front and distracting hi-hat beat.

Rolling Stones in 1966

Aftermath would ultimately be the high-water mark for Brian Jones’ influence on the band. Over the next few years and albums, his contributions were eventually diminished in lieu of the Jagger/Richards influence until he was ultimately nudged out of the band in 1969. He died shortly thereafter under mysterious circumstances.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Revolver by The Beatles

Revolver by The Beatles

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Revolver by The BeatlesAs many times as I’ve heard someone say they love The Beatles, I have heard someone else say they think they are overrated. To a generation of listeners raised in the digital era, this lack of appreciation may be understandable. It is like trying to explain what people did to entertain themselves before every home had a television. The genius of the Beatles lies in their innovation. Their songs are tangible evidence of what was possible when you broke the rules of accepted songwriting styles and production techniques. What they produced nearly half a century ago on analog tape with limited tracks stands the test of time. It remains relevant even in today’s age of digital production, seemingly limitless tracks, and computer aided sound engineering.

Due to their unprecedented and phenomenal success, The Beatles had a license to kill. By the end of summer 1966, the band stopped touring all together. Their primary focus would be recording albums as the individual members settled into domestic life in England. While Rubber Soul, released in December 1965, kicked off the Beatles evolution from four mop tops playing simple guitar based pop/rock songs to ventures with ethnic instruments and a folk rock sound, Revolver pushed the band into a new direction with an eclectic mix of sounds spun together in unconventional ways that shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it work brilliantly, it laid the groundwork for the future of sound production. The album also marks the beginning of more individualistic styles in the band’s songwriting. Like in the past, most of the songs are credited to “Lennon/McCartney”, but on Revolver the songs are more distinctly Paul McCartney or more distinctly John Lennon.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of this review of Revolver, it is important to realize that there were two different versions of this album. It was customary at this point in the international music business to release a UK version of an album as well as an altered US release with less songs and jumbled sequence. Revolver was not released in the US in its present form until the release of the digital CD in 1987. This was when it was settled that the UK versions were the “official” Beatles albums, so this is the version we have reviewed.

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Revolver by The Beatles
Released: August 5, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, April-June, 1966
Side One Side Two
Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
I’m Only Sleeping
Love You To
Here, There, and Everywhere
Yellow Submarine
She Said, She Said
Good Day Sunshine
And Your Bird Can Sing
For No One
Doctor Robert
I Want to Tell You
Got to Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows
Band Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Synths, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitar, Piano, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album kicks off with George Harrison’s “Taxman”, inspired by the shockingly high income taxes paid by the band and other high earners in Great Britain – sometimes as high as 95%. It is a political song that takes a direct shot at Harold Wilson, the British Labour Prime Minister, and Edward Heath, Britain’s Conservative Leader of the Opposition. This was a very bold move for the times. Like “Taxman”, there are several straight-forward rock/pop songs on Revolver, molded in the Beatles’ mid-60s, “Swinging London” style. These include Lennon’s guitar driven “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert”, and McCartney’s uplifting “Good Day Sunshine”. But the heart of the album is built from multiple unconventional songs.

“Eleanor Rigby” consists of layers of strings and vocals. The stark instrumentation and arrangement set the scene perfectly for the tale of the ‘lonely people” in the song. It is noteworthy that this is a song where no Beatle plays any instrument, just McCartney’s lead locals and backing vocals by the other band members. The music is driven by a string octet arranged by producer George Martin. McCartney also wrote “For No One”, a mellow song featuring the writer playing clavichord and a famous horn solo played by guest Alan Civil, and “Here, There, and Everywhere” which showcases his knack for writing and arranging stunningly beautiful melodies.

Beatles Got To Get You Into My Life singleMcCartney’s “Got to Get You into My Life” was influenced by the Motown sound with extensive use of brass. The song was not released as a single in the US until 1976, ten years after Revolver and six years after the Beatles disbanded, and amazingly, it became a top ten hit at that time. Harrison’s “Love You To” is a nod to his fascination with Indian music featuring the sitar front and center, which was used previously on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul, but is more famously used here. Harrison’s third and final composition on the album is the piano-driven “I Want To Tell You”, a far more traditional song with lyrics about his difficulty expressing himself.

John Lennon wrote “I’m Only Sleeping”, an odd stroll through a state (most likely drug induced) between being awake and being asleep. The backwards guitars add to the confused and muddled feeling of John Lennon’s vocals. “She Said, She Said” includes lyrics taken almost verbatim from a conversation between Lennon and actor Peter Fonda while they were under the influence of LSD in California in 1965. During a conversation, Fonda said “I know what it’s like to be dead,” because as a boy he had almost died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Beatles in 1966

The most groundbreaking song on this album from a technical aspect is the psychedelic final song, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary’s book, “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead”. Musically, the drone-like song included such groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects. The elaborate recording, which included several simultaneous tape machines and creative processing of Lennon’s vocals, was conducted by engineer Geoff Emerick.

The light and childlike “Yellow Submarine” was written to provide Ringo Starr his token lead vocal for Revolver. With the help of all band members and the Abbey Road production team, overdubbed stock sound effects from the studios’ tape library were used to add the memorable soundscape to this famous song.

Revolver is considered by many critics to be one of the top albums of all time. It marked the beginning of the second half of the Beatles’ career, when they produced a string of highly influential, classic albums right up to the very end of their storied run.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

The Dylans debut album

The Dylans

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The Dylans debut albumWhen determining which albums to review here at Modern Rock Review, we like to stay pretty much within the bounds of mainstream rock and usually only make exceptions for very important albums which just cannot be ignored. Once in a while, however, we’ll find something odd, obscure, unknown, or all of the above that strikes a chord with us and lands a prestigious spot on our review board. The Dylans were a very short-lived band that came out of the “Madchester” scene in England. They really tapped into the retro-rock sound that would blossom in the early nineties and they did so early and well. So, for our second review of 1991, we’ve decided to review this band’s self-titled debut album, The Dylans. This debut has been called “totally underrated” by those who are aware of it’s existence (which are not a very great number). They combine fuzzy guitars, and effects-laden vocals with a more modern rhythm and back beat and their songs fluctuate between the psychedelic sounds of the sixties and the modern pop sounds of the eighties.

The band was formed by Colin Gregory, who had been with the sixties-retro band 1000 Violins through the late eighties as a guitarist. Gregory moved to bass and lead vocals to make way for the two rhythm guitarists Jim Rodger and Andy Curtis. Within months after their formation in 1990, the band was signed to an indie subsidiary of RCA Records. As the band started to write and record songs for their debut, Curtis was replaced by Andy Cook, who would become the chief songwriter for the album.

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The Dylans by The Dylans
Released: November, 1991 (Situation Two)
Produced by: Stephen Street & John A. Rivers
Recorded: Black Barn Studios, Surrey, England, Summer 1991
Track Listing Band Musicians
She Drops Bombs
Planet Love
I Hope the Weather Stays Fine
Sad Rush On Sunday
No Coming Down
Mine
Particle Ride
Ocean Wide
Godlike
Mary Quaint In Blue
Love To
Indian Sun
Colin Gregory – Guitar, Bass, Vocals
Jim Rodger – Guitars
Andy Cook – Guitars
Quentin Jennings – Keyboards
Gary Jones – Drums

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The album has a great start and a strong finish, with a bit of repetitive lull in the middle. It is well-produced throughout with plenty of sonic ear candy along with solid melodies and song structures. Right from the start, with the song “She Drops Bombs”, it is evident that the band wants to tap into sixties psychedelia, with some remnants of Revolver-era Beatles (especially the Harrison songs) and other, more obscure acts like Strawberry Alarm Clock, giving it all a very vibey, acid rock feel. This sound is scattered throughout the album, especially on “No Coming Down”, “Indian Sun”, the single “Godlike”, and the album’s only instrumental which is titled “Particle Ride”.

The other predominant sound of the album is more influenced by 1980s British pop. “Planet Love” starts with a sixties-like effect which was gypped from the opening of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” but then settles into a U2-esque beat, behind the still heavily-layered top end. “I Hope the Weather Stays Fine” has some definite eighties club music influence, but still maintains that English top end and a Doors-like organ to give it a unique edge. It also contains an interesting second “voice” to deliver the catch phrase title of the song. “Love To” is an upbeat, feel-good, “life is good” song to change the pace a bit.

But perhaps the two most interesting songs on the album are the ones which do not sound too “sixties” or too “eighties” either way. “Sad Rush On Sunday” has an upbeat, three chord, very catchy riff and remains snappy throughout, accented by deeply wah-wahed guitars. “Mary Quant In Blue”, the last single from the album and The Dylan’s biggest “hit” ever, contains a definite dance beat, noted-riff, layered guitars, with a very melodic hook delivered by new wave-ish vocals.

This 1991 debut album would be the pinnacle for the band. In the following years, The Dylans would be plagued by several lineup changes which would delay the recording of their second album, Spirit Finger, until 1994. Then, when sales for that album were lethargic and lower than expected, the band decided to call it quits altogether.

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1991 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1991 albums.

1986 Album of the Year

Back In the High Life
by Steve Winwood

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1986 Album of the Year

Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood Steve Winwood is an artist who has had two major phases of his professional career. Starting as a teenager with the Spencer Davis Group, he was thrust into the international spotlight with a pair of mega-hits “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man”. This kicked off the first phase of his career playing and fronting several progressive rock bands including Blind Faith and, more prominently, Traffic throughout the late sixties and early seventies.

Then, in the 1980s, Winwood came back with the second phase of his career which was more distinctly pop and blue-eyed soul. He scored some minor hits from the albums Arc of a Diver in 1980 and Talking Back to the Night in 1982. These albums set the stage for the most successful album of his career – 1986’s Back In the High Life. Here, Winwood took some of the styles and methods that he had developed on the previous two albums and brought it to a whole new level.

The album achieves that elusive goal of combining great songs that will stand the test of time while also catering to the commercial appeal of the day. As we mentioned earlier in other reviews, this was no easy task in 1986 when the prevailing pop “sound” was at a nadir. Winwood and co-producer Russ Titelman sacrificed nothing here. The entire album managed to encompass the sounds of the eighties, as it uses its share of synthesizers and modern fonts without sounding dated. This was achieved by counter-balancing the “80’s” sounds with some traditional instruments, styles and Winwood’s distinctive and emotive vocals. There is also excellent songwriting, with most songs co-written by Winwood and Will Jennings and all including some cool lyrics and catchy melodies.

1986 is the third year overall that this new 2011 enterprise called Classic Rock Review has examined, the first two were 1971 and 1981. It may seem like we choose these years at random, there is a method to our madness as we choose to review years with significant anniversaries (that is anniversaries divisible by ‘5’), and it is the 25th anniversary of the music of 1986. With each of these review years, we choose an Album of the Year to review last, and for 1986 that album is Back In the High Life.

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Back In the High Life by Steve Winwood
Released: July, 1986 (Island)
Produced by: Russ Titelman & Steve Winwood
Recorded: Unique Recording & The Power Station, New York, Netherturkdonic Studio, Gloucestershire, England, Fall 1985-Spring 1986
Side One Side Two
Higher Love
Take It As It Comes
Freedom Overspill
Back In the High Life Again
The Finer Things
Wake Me Up On Judgment Day
Split Decision
My Love’s Leavin’
Primary Musicians
Steve Winwood – Guitars, Keyboards, Synths, Lead Vocals
Phillipe Saisse – Bass
Jimmy Brawlower – Drums & Percussion

For a pop-oriented album, Back In the High Life is unique. Each of its eight tracks exceed five minutes in length which is something not seen much outside of prog rock, art rock, or dance tracks. This may be a further testament to the thought and effort put into these compositions. The album also contains some cameo appearances by popular contemporaries, diversely spread throughout.

The album kicks off with the song which would become Winwood’s only #1 hit of his long career, “Higher Love”. This nicely sets the pace for what we’ll expect from the rest of the album – Caribbean rhythms with synth, horns, funky bass, and the distinctive, upper-range vocals. This song is awash in good feelings; “Let me feel that love come over you…”, almost a gospel-like song, and it features soul star Chaka Kahn singing high background harmonies.

On the other end, the album concludes with a couple of interesting songs with very different co-writers. “Split Decision” was co-written by the legendary Joe Walsh and begins with a distinctive, crunchy riff from Walsh and then smoothly works towards a more Winwood-centric riff with organ and reggae beat in the verse and a soul-influenced chorus. The lyric is another take on the influences of good and evil on a person;

“One man puts the fire out, the other lights the fuse…”

“My Love’s Leavin'” was co-written by British eccentric artist Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and contains stark soundscapes which are ethereal and haunting, about facing reality and singing of hope and faith in the face of a loss.

Steve Winwood

“Freedom Overspill” contains some rewarding instrumentation with an edgy, whining guitar providing some of the best licks on the album above a masterful arrangement of synths, organ, horns, and rhythm. It is very funky and very eighties, but somehow it is not a caricature. The lyrics paint a picture of a couple up all night hashing out their differences – “Coffee and tears the whole night through/Burning up on midnight oil/And it’s come right back on you”.

“The Finer Things” was another radio hit from the album, with its misty opening, bouncing, Police-like rhythms, and lots of changes throughout. The song rolls along like the river, at some points calm and serene while at others rough and tumbling rapids. This metaphor is explicit in the lyrics;

“So time is a river rolling into nowhere, I will live while I can I will have my ever after…” 

“Wake Me Up On Judgment Day” is a song about wanting to avoid struggle – to get to the good stuff without all of the pitfalls – “Give me life where nothing fails, not a dream in a wishing well”. The song kicks in like a sunrise, the burst of light then explodes from the dawn. Ironically, this song talks of “horns” but actual “horns” are used sparingly with a heavy bass line and much percussion.

But the single element that makes Back In the High Life a truly great album is the title song “Back In the High Life Again”. According to co-writer Jennings, the song was one that Winwood seemed to have little interest in developing when recording began on the album. Until one winter day Winwood returned to his mansion after his divorce to find everything gone except for a mandolin in the corner of the living room. Jennings said, “He went over and picked up the mandolin, and he already had the words in his head, and that’s when he wrote the melody.” The recording of this song for the album includes a lead mandolin along several other ethnic instruments such as acoustic guitar, accordion, bagpipes, and marching drums, with guest James Taylor on backing vocals. This is all as a backdrop for the excellent vocal melody by Winwood, which portrays the feeling of hope and optimism.

The song was later covered by Warren Zevon, whose bare-bones, emotional delivery has an entirely different mood from Winwood’s original release, mournful and melancholy, almost satirical. This despite the fact that Zevon did not change the key or melody for his recording. Perhaps the truest test for a quality song is when it can have several interpretations and “faces”, depending on its delivery, and “Back In the High Life Again” is truly a great song.

Back In the High Life was the final album Winwood would do for Island Records, a label he had been with for 21 years at the time of the album’s released in July, 1986. Despite this longevity, Winwood was still relatively young at 38 and he would go on to do more interesting things in the subsequent years; signing with Virgin Records and producing a few more hit albums in the late eighties, reuniting the band Traffic in nineties, and most recently working with former Blind Faith band mate Eric Clapton, with whom he toured in 2011.

More on Steve Winwood

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

So by Peter Gabriel

So by Peter Gabriel

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So by Peter GabrielA little over a decade after departing from Genesis as their elaborate frontman, Peter Gabriel released his fifth and most successful solo album. After releasing four consecutive albums with the same exact title, “Peter Gabriel”, this fifth album was given the complex and elaborate title of So. Produced by Gabriel and Daniel Lanois, the album includes performances by some thirty musicians and singers, including some recognized names like Stewart Copeland, Nile Rogers, and Kate Bush.

The album has a quintessential mid-eighties sound, with plenty of synthesizers and over-sequenced percussion. But, it does however have a soul to it, with just the right mixture of diverse genres throughout that range from Psychedelic to R&B/Soul to World Music. So would be a huge commercial success for Gabriel, fueled by a handful of hit songs that were lifted themselves by either interesting, critically acclaimed music videos or an inclusion in a popular film. In fact, So would be the pinnacle of Gabriel’s chart success overall, including his esteemed career with Genesis.

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So by Peter Gabriel
Released: May 19, 1986 (Geffen)
Produced by: Daniel Lanois & Peter Gabriel
Recorded: Ashcombe Studios, Bath, England, February-December 1985
Side One Side Two
Red Rain
Sledgehammer
Don’t Give Up
That Voice Again
In Your Eyes
Mercy Street
Big Time
We Do What We’re Told
This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds)
Primary Musicians
Peter Gabriel – Synthesizers, Piano, Vocals
David Rhodes – Guitars
Tony Levin – Bass
Manu Katche – Drums & Percussion

The opener “Red Rain” sets the pace for the album with it’s emphasis on (mainly sequenced) percussions and fully synthesized accents and effects. The sound is ethereal with very little attack or accent. Much like the material from his old Genesis days, Gabriel sings in vivid detail about a dream and has stated this song to be one of his personal favorites. The album’s pace is accelerated by “Sledgehammer”, the most popular song on the album, with a funky beat and Motown-influenced arrangement that is intersected with a signature pan flute sound for the middle lead. One would think that the bamboo and the brass would not mix, but they serve to make this song very edgy and original.

“Don’t Give Up” is a duet with Kate Bush and one of the gems from So as it musically migrates along with the mood of the lyric. Starting with interesting, recursive bass pattern That accompanies the confident beginning to a more subdued main theme, shrouded in doubt, then ultimately back to a Gospel-like, piano section during the hope and resolve of the final section.

The fine first side concludes with another pop hit, “That Voice Again”, with its percussion-guided verse and some nice keyboards to supplement the chorus. It is an almost pro-religious song about making the right choice when confronted by a tough choice, which seems to contradict the scoff at religion in another hit song, “Big Time”-

…and I will pray to a big God as I kneel in a big church…”

Here Gabriel returns to the funky beat and melody, making this a fine dance song laced with some nice high end vocal textures between the verses and in the outtro.

Say Anything movie posterAlthough not a hit at the time of the album’s release in 1986, “In Your Eyes” would find new life when it was featured in the Cameron Crowe film Say Anything in 1989 and would eventually go on to become one of Gabriel’s most recognizable songs ever. It is a straight-forward, romantic song which this album needed, but it still maintains an edge over run-of-the-mill love song due to it’s sound scape and delivery. The song is constructed masterfully, from the patient, extended drum fill in between the verses to the world-music influenced vocal parts in the coda. It also contains a distinctive, signature riff in the pre-chorus section which brings the whole piece to a new level emotionally.

The remainder of So includes a tribute to the poet Anne Sexton called “Mercy Street” and two art-rock pieces including “We Do What We’re Told (Milgrim’s 37)”, which refers to the 1961 Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures, and contains a vibe that is almost comparable to a late 1960s Pink Floyd style sound scape piece, but with an updated, 1980s sound throughout. The closing “This Is the Picture” is a little more put together and upbeat than the previous song, and was co-written by Laurie Anderson, who also performs vocals on the track.

In a year and era of somewhat weak efforts by established artists, So was a complete and original effort which showed that Peter Gabriel still had some artistic fuel left in the tank.

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

Mean Business by The Firm

Mean Business by The Firm

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Mean Business by The FirmAfter the big success of their eponymous 1985 debut, the super-group The Firm followed up with their sophmore release in early 1986 called Mean Business, which would end up being the short-lived super-group’s final album. At first listen, this album seems to be sub-par to the debut, or at least much more under-developed at best. But, upon each closer and subsequent listen, one discovers that this album is actually quite good and original in its own right.

Unfortunately, not many people have taken this closer listen and the album had a short ride to the proverbial dust bin. This was due, in part, to the actions taken by the band themselves as The Firm suddenly decided to call it quits just a few months after Mean Business was released, signifying their own apparent disapproval of this work.

Musically, the album is filled with spastic and rudimentary riff lines from Jimmy Page, odd but solid musical timings from the rhythm section of Tony Franklin and Chris Slade, and powerful, nearly strained vocal performance by Paul Rodgers. It is an uneven album, with heavy influence from Page here and heavy influence from Rodgers there, along with some experimental pieces by the band as a whole. There are a few songs that feel under-developed and a few that feel over-produced. But with every listen, they all seem to get better and better.

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Mean Business by The Firm
Released: February 3, 1986 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Jimmy Page, Paul Rodgers & Julian Mendelsohn
Recorded: 1985
Side One Side Two
Fortune Hunter
Cadillac
All the King’s Horses
Live in Peace
Tear Down the Walls
Dreaming
Free to Live
Spirit of Love
Musicians
Paul Rodgers – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Jimmy Page – Guitars
Tony Franklin – Bass, Keyboards
Chris Slade – Drums, Backing Vocals

The album begins with the only survivor from the short-lived XYZ project. In 1981, following the death of drummer John Bonham and the disbandment of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page decided to join forces with Chris Squire and Alan White, formally of Yes. The would-be super-group was to be called XYZ (for ex- Yes and Zeppelin), but fell apart within a year and yielded no recorded material. “Fortune Hunter” is a reworked song from that project, written by Page and Squire. Through the first three verses, the song displays many of the characteristics that will be found throughout this Firm album – a frenzied and frantic riff with strained vocals – but then it suddenly deviates sharply into a “quiet” middle section before quickly rebounding and building back to the fast pace.

To close the album, a near-opposite song “Spirit of Love” was chosen. Driven by Franklin’s piano riffs, this quasi-epic is probably the song that Page had the least influence on, as it is pure pop and even incorporates a full chorus towards the end, which makes one believe it was inspired by Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”. The deviation between the opener and closer, while adding to the overall oddness of the album, also puts into context the diverse material in between.

“Cadillac”, with its slow, trance-like blues, fueled by the excessively long, droning guitars by Page, is one of the more interesting songs on the first side. The song is held together by the methodical rhythm of Franklin and Slade, and contains just enough skipping in time to make it quite interesting.

Paul Rodgers contributes the next two songs – the synth-driven pop song “All the King’s Horses”, which was ill-advisedly slated as the emphasis single from Mean Business, and the darker. message-driven “Live In Peace”. This latter song has a very Bad Company-ish vibe, with Page adding a nice guitar lead.

The second side contains, perhaps, the best three songs on the album. Tony Franklin contributes the jazzy “Dreaming”, a unique and off-beat, gem which contains some very surprising turns. The other, collaborations by Rodgers and Page, offer some insight of what could have been had this group stayed together a while longer. “Tear Down the Walls” is a good, catchy pop-rock song that could’ve (and should’ve) been a hit in 1986, while “Free to Live” contains another rudiment-driven riff, that is accented brilliantly by some excellent vocals.

While this may not quite rise to the level of The Firm’s 1985 debut (although a strong case may be made that it does), Mean Business is well worth the listen.

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

Face Dances by The Who

Face Dances by The Who

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Face Dances by The WhoFace Dances was the ninth album from the legendary band The Who but their first without drummer Keith Moon, who died of an overdose shortly after the release of their previous album, Who Are You in 1978. Unlike their English contemporaries Led Zeppelin, who also lost their drummer during that time span and decided they could not continue without him, The Who decided to make a comeback in 1981 with a new drummer, Kenney Jones.

In spite of this fracture in personnel integrity, Face Dances is actually a very good album. Jones holds his own with the musical virtuosos in the band, guitarist and primary songwriter Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle, and the material is strong and up-to-date while maintaining some of the signature qualities that make The Who, The Who.

Although the band was far removed from their days of rock operas and complicated theme albums, the material seems to flow along a consistent vibe that is at once deep and a bit comical, but always strong and forward. It is a credit to their ability to adapt to changing times and changing tastes in the music world.
 

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Face Dances by The Who
Released: March 16, 1981 (Polydor)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: Odyssey Recording Studios, London, July-December, 1980
Side One Side Two
 You Better, You Bet
 Don’t Let Go the Coat
 Cache Cache
 The Quiet One
 Did You Steal My Money?
How Can You Do It Alone
Daily Records
You
Another Tricky Day
Musicians
Roger Daltrey – Lead Vocals
Pete Townshend – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Entwistle – Bass, Vocals
Kenney Jones – Drums

 
This comical trait is obvious right from the jump with “You Better, You Bet”, an entertaining mini-suite with complex chord structures that flow together along a silky smooth narrative. “Did You Steal My Money?” is another near-frivolous song that takes a little concentration to recognize the fantastic vocal performance that is put forth by vocalist Roger Daltrey.

As usual, Townshend’s songs are introspective and, to a lesser extent, philosophical. “Don’t Let Go the Coat” was inspired by guru Meher Baba (who was partially responsible for the title to the song “Baba O’Riley” a decade earlier), while “Cache, Cache” was a literal telling of Townshend’s ill-fated, one day retirement from the music business. Entwistle contributes a unique original with his own raspy vocals and near-heavy-metal sound with “The Quiet One”.

The second side of the album contains lesser known but strong songs throughout , highlighted by “Daily Records” and “Another Tricky Day”. Although Face Dances is not quite Who’s Next or Quadraphenia, it is a solid record and important in the band’s rebound following the tragic death of Moon. The band would put out another studio album, It’s Hard, in 1982 before ultimately disbanding for over a decade and a half.

The album cover of Face Dances features sixteen square paintings (four of each band member) that were commissioned by artist Peter Blake (of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover fame), who enlisted many British artists of differing styles (including himself) to make this unique cover.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.

 

Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne

Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne

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Diary of a Madman by Ozzy OsbourneThere is something pure about Ozzy Osbourne that makes him so endearing to his fiercely loyal fans. Without pretension, this big, overbearing lug that just plugs away at his prophesying to the darker fringes of the Western psyche. Despite all his success, Ozzy is more Eagor than ego. But from this rock critic’s perspective, in his career that spanned over four decades, there was only a very brief moment in time when Ozzy Osbourne was truly great. It was during a few short years at the top of his solo career, when he shared the stage with an equally iconic partner, Randy Rhoads. Together they produced two brilliant albums, Blizzard of Ozz in 1980 and Diary of a Madman in 1981.

A classically trained, guitar virtuoso, Rhoads was a young musical genius who looked at his meteoric rise in rock n’ roll as just a minor pit stop on his road to achieving a true classical music education. He had actually planned on returning to school in the near future before his life was cut short when an idiotic pilot tried some idiotic stunts on a small plane in Florida in early 1982.
 

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Diary of a Madman by Ozzy Osbourne
Released: November 7, 1981 (Jet)
Produced by: Max Norman, Ozzy Osbourne, & Randy Rhoads
Recorded: February 9 – April 23, 1981
Side One Side Two
 Over the Mountain
 Flying High Again
 You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll
 Believer
Little Dolls
Tonight
S.A.T.O.
Diary of a Madman
Musicians
Ozzy Osbourne – Lead & Backing Vocals
Randy Rhoads – Guitars
Bob Daisley – Bass
Lee Kerslake – Drums & Percussion

At first, it seems apparent that with Diary of a Madman the band wanted to carbon-copy their breakthrough Blizzard of Ozz. In fact, the first two songs, “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” strongly mirror the first two songs of that album (“I Don’t Know”/”Crazy Train”), being the most recognizable on their respective albums. But soon, Diary of a Madman makes it’s own mark as a deeper, darker, more classically-oriented piece.

“You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” is where the music starts to get serious. The best song on this album, it both perfectly illuminates the twin sides of Rhoads, while being the ultimate theme song for Ozzy Osbourne himself. The production work is stellar, blending the classical and heavy metal elements perfectly. In the third verse, with the long, distorted droning electric guitars, really brings the volcanic passion of this song bubbling to the surface.

Blizzard of Ozz band 1981

There is some controversy that has followed this album through the years, as the original bass and drum recordings, done by Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake were later re-recorded (by Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge) at the instance of Ozzy’s wife and manager, Sharon Osbourne, in order to cleanse songwriting credits from Daisley and Kerslake. This is really unfortunate, because the original recording were much of a band effort, and the bass and drum performances shine throughout, especially through the second side of the album and the songs “Little Dolls”, “Tonight”, and “S.A.T.O.”.

But this album is undoubtedly Rhoads from start to finish. And what an eerie finish indeed, with the haunting title song. That traverses through a few haunting verses and a very haunting mid section. Then the outtro – when Rhoads furious riff is accompanied by a chorus of spiritual voices that escort his very last performance on record to a bone-chilling end.

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1981 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1981 albums.